Lamonte McIntyre speaks on ‘bittersweet’ freedom after 23 years in prison

Lamonte McIntyre was charged, and convicted, for a double homicide in Kansas City, Kansas in 1994.

But through 23 years of court appeals and tireless efforts in the legal community, he is free. A little more than 72 hours after he was released from prison, he spoke with FOX 4 about adjusting to a life much different than the one he spent the last two decades living.

"It feels good, it feels bittersweet sometimes," he said from his lawyer's office in downtown Kansas City on Sunday. "I'm here, I'm free, I'm grateful."

But he hesitated, and added, "three days - that's a lot to process. And where I just came from -- it's tough."

There are days the McIntyre family will always remember.

One of those days is April 15, 1994: the day the double homicide he was accused of happened.

"That day is still hard for me to talk about," said Rosie, Lamonte's mother.

She explained how her family found a card from a Kansas City Kansas police detective at their door. Sitting in the attorney's lobby, she described how Lamonte called the detective multiple times, but never got an answer. So Rosie offered to drive him to the police station, to speak with the officers in person.

Instead, she happened to see an officer's car in a restaurant parking lot. She pulled in, she said, and told the officer that someone wanted to speak with her son.

Within moments, she said, police inundated the parking lot. She said the officers searched her son for weapons, and then said they would take Lamonte down to police headquarters. They told her, she remembered, that she could come pick up her son in 15 minutes.

"I relived those 15 minutes every 23 years of my life," she said Sunday. "I relive the same 15 minutes... the same 'Come get your son in 15 minutes". And people don't believe that. I could not stop thinking about that. Every day, that haunted me, that I could not get my son in 15 minutes."

"I believed the police knew what they were talking about," she continued. "Fifteen minutes means 15 minutes. So you must be giving him back to me. So I go to get my son, and for 15 minutes, just kept on watching my watch."

After 15 minutes, she said, she drove to the police station. "As I was entering the police station, I'm passing my son," she remembered. "We're passing each other... he's handcuffed, he's crying. He says 'Mama, they're charging me with two counts of murder.' Right then and there, started my nightmare."

Another day the McIntyre family will remember: Friday, October 13, 2017. The day Lamonte McIntyre walked out of the Kansas Corrections system a free man.

For Rosie, watching her son, who grew from a boy to a man in prison, that walk, "was the best feeling of my life. Because my son was actually free. He was no longer an inmate, a number."

For Lamonte, his best moment was just moments after that walk - when he hugged his mother for the first time in more than two decades.

"I hadn't been able to hug my mom in so long," he said. "Because I know she hurt so much behind that one experience, and she was always there. But she suffered. So, to see her be able to breathe - to see everyone who had a hand in this be able to breathe - it was a good feeling."

Now, he has 23 years of moments to make up for.

As a 17 year old, his goal was to be a comedian; his family always remembered his smile. On Sunday, the few times he smiled were when he talked about the future. He plans on eating seafood and traveling the world.

"I want to go to all seven continents," he said. "I would just love to do that."

But McIntyre hopes some good can come from the 23 years of moments he lost.

"I always wanted to say this: before this experience, I never lived. I just kind of floated through life. Now, that I had my liberties taken from me, I appreciate everything."

First and foremost: he appreciates his family, and the people who worked tirelessly to help him get his freedom.

McIntyre is starting from scratch: he has no work history, no job experience, no social security. A fund has been established to get him on his feet, as Kansas is one of 18 states that does not compensate wrongfully convicted people for their time in prison.

McIntyre received a hearing - and was ultimately exonerated - thanks to a lot of work from the Midwest Innocence Project. The organization has a wait list of almost 700 cases of people who say they were wrongly convicted across five states.